Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

sitting with suffering

via google

via google

“Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?” This is the trick. ~ Pema Chodron

Pain is so subjective. There’s the ongoing pain of my arthritic hands — which can wake me up. But I don’t obsess over it. It just hurts. Then there’s the pain of loss — I miss my mother, my father, my elders, almost every day. That doesn’t ever completely disappear. And don’t forget pain of the moment: a stubbed toe, a cut finger. Which is as short-term as pain seems to get. The buzzy pain of annoyance, the thrum of to-do lists, the papercuts of everyday disappointments.

More painful — at least to me :) — than any of these is the pain of dukkha, the Buddhist term for suffering. All the other kinds of pain are subsumed in dukkha: physical & mental pain/suffering; trying to hold on to what must always change, and the infinitely difficult ‘unsatisfactoriness,’ where life is just… well, hard sometimes. Not enough, in & of itself. ‘Lacking substance,’ the definition notes.



This is where the Buddhist tool belt comes in handy. The tools are less, well, less physical. But no less effective. Tonglen, metta, or maitri, meditation. The ability, as my beloved teacher (even though I have never met her) Pema Chodron says, to ‘sit with suffering.’ Stay present to the pain of loss, grief, disappointment, change.

That is soooo HARD! Something more active — like metta, (lovingkindness), or tonglen (compassion for self & others)? I’m better w/ those. If I can feel like I’m DOING something — breathing in & out through the pain, trying to turn it to good use, offering it up for your pain? Well, that’s proactive. It’s this whole ‘sitting through’ it that’s so very difficult.

But I know the wise Pema Chodron is correct: suffering opens me. IF I can get past the anger that almost always accompanies it. IF we can come through the haze to the ‘other side’ of the pain.

the author's

the author’s

Often pain is twinned w/ anger. And I’m verrry good at anger — a veritable dragon. Appropriate, since I’m year of the dragon. I’m fast to blow fire, and even faster to judge, sadly. So learning to sit w/ my anger (a kind of pain — that of wanting things to be different, to either change back, or change forward), to just sit through it? Wow. Of course that will open me up. I’ll have to just sit there. And I’m no good at this, at all.

That’s my goal these next days: to learn to sit through, breathe through, my pain/my anger. To ‘just sit there,’ & see what happens on the other side. I know my pain(s) will blow away — just like the clouds in big sky mind. But it seems to take an incredibly l-o-o-o-o-n-g time for pain to dissipate, while joy is as ephemeral as smoke.

Still, the dragon isn’t only a fire-breather. The dragon is also a being with wings. And surely, if I learn how to control my internal combustion engine, If I learn how to bank that judgmental fire, I can learn to fly. We’ll see.


the rock of the multiplication, and feeding the hungry

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

If I were a Christian, I would be a member of a small church. A very small church indeed, in Tabgha, a small village on the Sea of Galilee. The Church of the Multiplication, where the miracle of the loaves & fishes occurred. Five loaves & two fishes, made many — a familiar parable to most Christians, and definitive (or at least I think so) of the man Jesus.

How many times in the New Testament does it say, feed the hungry…? How often are followers of Jesus asked to care for the poor, feed the hungry, look after the unfortunate, the sick, the needy…?

FREQUENTLY, folks. And Jesus himself does just that, in Tabgha. Please note: not ONCE does he say — spend all your money on tax breaks. Or, help the wealthy. In fact, Jesus says it’s easier to push a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get in to heaven. And he says it in Matthew, Mark, AND Luke. Frequently, in other words. Feed the hungry, which he does at the Rock of the Multiplication, in Tabgha, tradition says.

I’m so OVER ersatz people of faith coming down on the poor. I don’t get it. I don’t get why the poor are ‘undeserving’ of health care, for instance. Why the life of a poor person is worth less than the life of someone w/money. Why poor children should go unfed, under-educated, and live lives ‘less than’ their wealtheir compatriots. And yet, I see it reified all around me, day after day. By (ostensible) people of ‘faith.’

So here it is, one more time: at LEAST 20 times, Jesus says ‘feed the hungry.’ He’s quite clear about it. Even the infamously cranky Paul said to feed the hungry — in both Thessalonians & Corinthians. You may not want to do it, but don’t tell me you follow the teachings of Jesus if you DON’T do it. Because this was almost certainly a deal-breaker.

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

As it is for Islam, where almsgiving to the poor, the needy, the destitute, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, known as Zakāt . As it is Buddhism, where monks & nuns make daily rounds in many countries, depending on the generous charity of the townspeople to feed them. As it is in wisdom traditions from time immemorial, because it is RIGHT.

If you want to argue your political ‘case’ for refusing to honour these religious strictures, that’s your business. But please: don’t pretend it’s part of any religion I know of. Feeding the hungry goes way back, to the earliest times. Like when Jesus multiplied two fish and five loaves. To feed the hungry…


ben franklinBen Franklin is on record as having said, “When you are finished changing, you’re finished.” I LOVE that. And I heartily agree, although I confess: there are all kinds of change I resist fiercely.

I don’t like ANY  kind of changes to my schedule — if it interferes w/’my’ time, it’s a pain. I’m only half-kidding: I have this perfectionist gene (probably from my Grandma Skidmore; my mom & dad certainly didn’t have it), where if you want me to finish before I think something is right, I’m NOT going to be happy.

So impromptu stuff is always kind of iffy, if I have to ‘produce.’ Unless it’s writing, which I”m comfortable enough with that I can crank it out. A letter of rec, a poem for a journal edited by a friend or colleague, even editing your essay. I can do those w/ relative aplomb.

But changing around the family room, for my beloved? That was harder. I had to reframe it (remember how important reframing is?): had to remind myself how glad I would be to do this if Glen were in a rehab centre, away from me. And then it becomes an exercise in making the room comfortable for him, and efficient as well.

And what about doing the grocery shopping (normally at least 1/2 his job)? Or the other things that he did at least as much I did (filling bird feeders, running errands)…? Same thing. Wouldn’t I be grateful to do these things if it meant he didn’t have to be somewhere else?

via wiki commons

via wiki commons

Which is the truth: doing these things enables him to be here, in our home, with me. Selfish, self-centered, human me.  Who is NOT good w/ changes. Not most kinds, at least — except, say, a new flavour of ice cream. And certainly not ones that hint at… mortality.

So to read Franklin’s aphorism today — in a totally unexpected venue — was great. Affirming for me that change is NOT my enemy, and may well be my dear friend. IF I can bring myself to accept it. And even IF I don’t actually embrace it. :)

Thanks, Ben. I needed to hear this today. Most days, to be honest. So thanks. I am NOT finished. There’s still plenty of change left…

rainfall and intimations of moving

via google

via google

Although I love rain (honest), I don’t think about it a lot. Truth is, I take rain for granted. The drought in California is real for me, but it doesn’t come to mind when it rains. At least not usually.

But this week, my sister-in-law is in from California, and as the Oklahoma rains sluiced the deck, she mentioned (casually!) that she hadn’t seen rain in two years.

My heart stopped.

No rain for TWO  YEARS? Wow. And even though I spent years in the desert, a city where the international school let out one day because it rained, I couldn’t fathom it. Two years w/out rainfall. Without that fragrance — rain hitting earth. Without thunder & the igneous stabs of lightening. How can I take that for granted now?

Apropos of what Itake for granted: we’re still considering a big move, away from what has been home for more than 20 years. From the prairie to the Blue Ridge Mountains. A big move. And because I’m the major instigator, my husband reminds me of what I’m apt to not think about: how much I’ll miss my sisters, nieces, nephews. How much I’ll miss my teaching connections. Our house. Our friends here.

the author's

the author’s

So that when I am quiet, and working in my everyday world, I remember: I love my jobs. I love teaching (not grading, but it’s all part of the picture). I love the deck, even when I see how it needs refinishing, and repairs. How the tree needing pruning holds a red-shouldered hawk.

The yard — even knowing I haven’t weeded. My sisters, even when I don’t want to answer the phone because I’m in the middle of something. All the pieces of my life here, now.

It takes something out of the ordinary to help me see how beautiful the ‘ordinary’ really is. Something like two years without to appreciate four inches of rain. Or the possibility of leaving — of goodbyes — to comprehend the ineffable beauty of  today.

Look around you. Pretend, just for a moment.  Pretend that you’re going away, and this place where you are now will never be yours again. How does that shift your perspective? And doesn’t it tug — just a bit — at your beginner’s heart…? I hope so.

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